Indian and Chinese soldiers engage in hand-to-hand combat as border standoff flares up again

Indian and Chinese soldiers have clashed in a new hand-to-hand brawl at high altitude on their mountainous shared border, army officials said on Monday.

The clash is the latest in a number of violent incidents since a standoff developed early in 2020, at least one of which led to significant loss of life. Local media reported that several were injured in the fight, with injuries suffered “on both sides”. 

The latest brawl took place last week at Naku La in the northern Sikkim border area, and was described as “minor” and short-lived by the Indian army.

After the first Indian media reports, an army statement read: “It is clarified that there was a minor face-off at Naku La area of North Sikkim on 20 January and the same was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols. 

“Media is requested to refrain from overplaying or exaggerating reports which are factually incorrect,” the Indian army statement added, without providing further details.

Since May 2020, India and China have been engaged in a bitter standoff in Ladakh, their worst since a 1962 war. In June, 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers were killed during a clash in the Galwan Valley.  

Opposition leaders have consistently criticised the Indian government’s handling of the crisis.

“China is expanding its occupation into Indian territory. Mr 56 (inch – a reference to prime minister Narendra Modi’s chest size, as boasted by his supporters) hasn’t said the word ‘China’ for months. Maybe he can start by saying the word ‘China’,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the main opposition party Congress.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, meanwhile, urged India to refrain from doing anything that could escalate the situation.

“I would like to stress though that China’s border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquillity along the border with India. We urge the Indian side to work in the same direction as us and refrain from actions that might escalate or complicate the situation along the border,” he told a regular news briefing.

Mr Zhao added: “We hope both sides will take proper actions to manage their differences and take concrete actions to safeguard peace and stability along the border.”

Several rounds of talks have been held between military leaders to deescalate the situation yet, despite harsh winters in the region when temperatures can dip to minus 50 degrees Celsius, an estimated 50,000 troops remain deployed in the area along with artillery, tanks and fighter plane support.  

In fact, in spite of the conditions Indian forces have reportedly increased patrolling recently amid concerns of an impending Chinese “incursion”.

The news of the latest clash at the border came at the end of the ninth round of high-level talks on Sunday.  They reached no formal agreement. 

Additional reporting by agencies

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